FAIRMONT — In its first game since winning the Class AA state championship in March, there were plenty of self-inflicted setbacks to derail a youthful Fairmont Senior team replacing four starters and pitted against a Wheeling Central squad loaded with talent and two of the state's top players in Eden Gainer and Kaylee Reinbeau.
But amid any gaffes or hiccups, the Lady Polar Bears' aggression, fight and resilience sustained as they wiped away an eight-point third quarter deficit to nab a 64-60 season-opening victory on Friday in the 2019 Frank Hines Memorial Basketball Mixer at the 201st Fairmont Senior High School Field House.
"I know there was a lot of stuff we have to fix, but at the end of the day, we didn't quit and we played hard, and I'm very proud of that," said 10th-year Fairmont Senior coach Corey Hines. "When you get effort, then good things will happen — see mistakes can be fixed, but it's hard to teach a person to play hard."
The heartbeat of Fairmont Senior's ravenous play, which forced 31 Wheeling Central turnovers, was sophomore star Marley Washenitz, who exploded for 31 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and four steals, with 20 of those points coming in the second half.
"Those players with heart, those players with that pit bull mentality, man, she doesn't quit. She does not quit," Hines said. "A lot of people think it's going to be how many she scored --that was great and we needed every point--but what's most impressive to me is when there's a shot at one end and then she hustles down (to the other) and gets a block and knocks it off the girl's leg. That's the stuff, for years to come, that I'm gonna show people on film."
"Coach always says the most aggressive girls' teams win games," said Washenitz, who went 12-of-27 from the field and 6-of-10 from the foul line. "We've been focusing really hard on being dogs — AKA being aggressive, being scrappy, getting in there, getting rebounds...just being a mentally and physically tough type of player."
That teamwide tenacity harassed Central into the aforementioned 31 turnovers and 28.6 percent shooting, helping to offset Fairmont Senior's own 26 giveaways and 37.7 percent shooting. The Maroon Knights never concocted a solution to the Polar Bears’ in-your-face, extended 2-1-2 half-court zone, but their defense imposed their own damage via a 1-2-2 half-court pressure setup, and they got enough shotmaking from Gainer and Hannah White to erase a 22-18 deficit in the second quarter and take a 26-22 lead into the half.
White scored a team-high 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-6 from deep, to go with four rebounds, while Gainer struggled to a 3-of-15 showing from the field but still dropped in 15 points to pair with 10 rebounds and three assists. Reinbeau added another nine points on 2-of-12 shooting with 11 rebounds and seven steals.
“We definitely wanted to keep it out of Eden’s and Kaylee’s hands because they’re obviously really good players. But we also didn’t want go give Hannah White and their other players open shots, which Hannah we obviously did give her a few shots,” Washenitz said. “But overall, we were just trying to be aggressive and get up in them.”
Up four at halftime, Central ballooned the margin to eight at 37-29 with just under five minutes to go in the third, with Reinbeau foisting her imprint on the game despite a rough shooting night. She plucked steals and inverted the floor as a full-court ball handler, and she combined a finesse face up game with range on the boards to get to the foul line.
Washenitz tried to keep pace with the Maroon Knights almost single handily, burying a catch-and-shoot 3 to go with back-to-back driving layups, the second lofted high and soft off the glass. But when Gainer flaunted a saucy behind the back drive and floater finish, Fairmont Senior sunk into its largest hole of the night.
A scoop layup by Washenitz and putback-steal-assist sequence by FSHS’s undersized starting 5 Kiara Cosby revved up the FSHS centrifuge, with Wheeling once again sped up amid the frenzy. A 9-0 Fairmont run tied the game before Wheeling pulled back ahead by a hair at 43-42 at the end of the third.
But Washenitz and the Polar Bears kept grinding, with Washenitz scoring four second-chance points before assisting Reagan Blasher on back-to-back layups. Blasher finished with 14 points for FSHS, with 12 of those coming in the second half on 6-of-10 shooting. Emily Starn scored another eight points, while Cosby had seven points to go with eight rebounds and a team-high six steals.
“Everyone is going to make mistakes, no one is perfect” Washenitz said, “so as teammates, as friends, we got to pick each other up and let each other know the next play is always available.”
A drive-and-kick find by Gainer for a White 3 broke a 51-51 tie, but after a scoop layup by Washenitz, FSHS’s Laynie Beresford, who went 0-of-4 from the field and 0-of-6 from the line, shook aside her struggles and delivered back-to-back feeds for Fairmont Senior layups to eventually put the Polar Bears up by three with under 30 seconds to play.
Wheeling had a shot at multiple last-gasp triples, but couldn’t convert. And then Reinbeau was whistled for a technical when she reached over the end line and dislodged the ball from Cosby on an FSHS inbound to essentially seal the game when the Polar Bears went up with five with about 10 ticks left.
“The hardest thing to teach a player to do is not play in fear because a lot of them don’t want to make mistakes. We had a lot of kids out there who were like, ‘I don’t want to make a mistake,’ and we want to teach them to play free,” Hines said. “So even though the scoreboard shows that we won, there were a lot of things we can teach and get better at.
“The effort though, I’m proud of that.”
Email Bradley Heltzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.